Webchat with Jamie Oliver
Scourge of shoddy school dinners and father of four, chef and author Jamie Oliver was our guest on 15 October 2010. You had your cooking questions at the ready, as well as questions on school dinners, family life and whether he gets a discount at Sainsbury's.
Jamie's new book, 30-Minute Meals, is out now.
Q AvocadoBrother2: I find it really hard to get my kids to eat their greens. I'm sure most mums have the same problem. I am constantly trying to come up with new ways to disguise them and make them more appealing. What's the most inventive way you have got your little ones to eat their veggies?
A Jamie: This is the question of the century! You can have a direct/indirect route (or another way of putting this would be honest/dishonest way).
When I was faced with 1,700 school kids who didn't want to eat vegetables, I used to make a 13-veg tomato sauce that went in their pizza, curry, pasta, and soups and they all ate it when they said they hated all those vegetables that I'd hidden.
You could take this approach at home as well - using a hand blender to mush up all the veg in the sauce so your kids never know it's there. So it works, but hiding veg is short-term fix as it doesn't open their minds to making the choice to eat veg for themselves.
At the same time, I have never, ever worked with a child of any background (ethnically or economically) where if they have grown/picked something they haven't then at least tried that something. This is why my next ten years is about trying to get vegetable gardens and fruit frees in primary schools. If you see it, and are involved in it, you will always eat it. That really is the metaphor. Getting them involved and engaged is the metaphor for you to recreate in the market, the supermarket. Allow kids to smell, touch, try.
They might not like these things right now, don't worry that's normal and getting them to try something at all is a great first step. The most powerful thing you can do is to have a culture of being open minded, always try something even if you end spitting it out, so be mindful of the example that you are setting your kids about your own attitude to trying new things.
Q hairymelons: Are any of your children fussy eaters? My son eats what we eat normally, but unless it's pasta, he pushes it around and asks for, you guessed it, pasta! We're hoping it's a toddler rite of passage and his palate will widen. Any advice?
A Jamie: It's really normal that kids cling on to stuff they know. My kids are also obsessed with pasta. They'll pretty much eat anything that has pasta, so use this to your advantage. Pasta comes in so many different shapes and sizes, that you can get them on to rice and couscous and other things. Concentrate on what they do like, rather than what they don't. Although it's really easy to get into a routine every week, try to mix it up, as then it's easier to get them to try new things.
Q pinkclouds: If your children invite friends to play, what do you cook for them?
A Jamie: I cook loads of different things at my house, so kids don't get different food from what we cook for our own family. So when their friends come over, they eat whatever our family would've been eating anyway.
To be honest, I'm a morning dad and a weekend dad. Although Jools isn't a particularly good cook in a professional sense, she's a wonderful children's cook. When the kids need to cook, she's on it. She keeps things really simple and doesn't embellish things too much. From one pan, she can create three or four different elements of a meal.
Q LauraNorder: As a mum of three, I have discovered that, despite feeding them the same food, I have three children with very individual tastes. My son in particular, while not a fussy eater, prefers his food very plain. Obviously excluding Buddy, do your children all enjoy the same food or have you got different appetites among your three daughters?
A Jamie: I think you're facing the big quandary that many families face. I've worked in the past eight years with many families and mothers who are tearing their hair out trying to cater for everyone's individual tastes. I've witnessed mothers cooking five different meals for their kids and husbands - love will drive you to deliver that.
At some point you have to stop, rethink and find enough things that they have in common and feed them one big tasty meal. You've got to be stricter about it. You may have tears and a bit of playing up for a day or two, or a week, but ultimately if they are hungry, they will eat. You need to do this in conjunction with NO SNACKING. Most of the fussy eating comes with not being truly hungry as they've gorged on food after school. I've genuinely seen this and worked with families in this exact situation. You'll be happier, it will be cheaper and more time effective in the long run, if you take tough approach upfront. Instincts are often right, but modern solutions can take us down the wrong path. Dinner time ain't always perfect - that's really normal.
But if you can try and get your family together eating a meal together around the table, that's a great thing in itself. Another idea - try to get the kids to choose a day when they get to agree on what to cook, so that it's not always something that you are dictating, as a way to give them a reward for going along with what you're cooking the rest of the time.
Q VinegaRigamorTits: How can I get my fussy four-year-old to eat sandwiches? He will only eat cocktail sausages in his packed lunch.
A Jamie: I've worked with loads of parents who struggle with packed lunches and like any other aspect of cooking you need to get them involved, sandwiches can be done thousands of different ways - burritos, pittas, mini rolls, etc, etc. So try and find a way that gets your kid into it.
Don't take the sausage thing as a negative, but rather try and use that as a vehicle to get him to eat different things, and most importantly have fun with food. This solves nearly all problems. It doesn't happen overnight and at the same time kids' palates are changing monthly, so perfection doesn't exist. If you're expressing your concern you're already showing that you're a brilliant parent and your natural instincts in conjunction with interaction and having fun with food will get you where you want to be.
Q daisystone: Do your girls like all of the food that you cook? Or are there things that they won't touch? How do you deal with that? Have they come home asking for processed food like plastic cheese or chicken nuggets that you simply won't entertain giving them?
A Jamie: The kids generally like the food I cook - I try to get them to steer what I'm going to cook so they feel involved. They've got slightly different things they do and don't like and I'll negotiate around certain things or put it on their plate knowing they might not take it. They don't want food like processed cheese, because compared to a nice piece of cheese they taste like crap and even kids know that, but if it's all they're given then that's what they'll buy into, along with the adverts.
On chicken nuggets, I cooked with a bunch of young mums the other day and I showed them how you could make chicken nuggets from RSPCA freedom chicken from scratch in 12 minutes. The frozen ones they were buying were 20p more expensive for the same quantity, took 20 minutes to reheat and there was only 50% chicken in them. The mums saw they could save time, money and most importantly the difference in taste and texture, and they threw the other ones away, saying that they tasted muddy. That kind of work makes me really happy and I did the same demo on a Chinese takeaway, and fish as well.
This is the thing that drives me. It's so inspiring to see how simple bits of good, clear information can change lives for mums, kids and the way those kids treat their kids. It empowers people and makes mums feel like mums again, and brings happiness and health at the same time with the rounded approach.
I think we're lucky in England because we're good at bashing ourselves where Americans love each other. Supermarkets have never been better. The clean up of hidden rubbish in food in the past four years has really improved. Even Walkers have made wonderful changes, you'd have to eat three packs of crisps to get the same amount of saturated fat as five years ago. So brands, making positive change the like-for-like thing that you love and buy into alone, can make profound health changes and conjunction with good attitude to food.
Q Lavitabellissima: Is Jools a secret Mumsnetter?
A Jamie: I think she goes on here from time to time, but she's a bit full on at the moment with four kids!
Q Hulababy: What are your children's favourite meals?
A Jamie: They love all kinds of things – homemade pizza, gnocchi, stews, you name it. Every now and then they'll go through phases where they only want one thing. Poppy went mad for tinned plum tomatoes for a while, I don't know why but she asked for them all the time and loved them on toast. So I went with it, she enjoyed that for a while then it was on to the next thing.
Q HoneyIatethekidsdragon: What simple family meal do you like be able to come home to, that you, Jools and the kids can eat together that allows you some downtime with the family?
A Jamie: I tend to be working in the week so often Jools cooks and then I take over at weekends. This doesn't help you though. I think the biggest problem busy people have is coming up with ideas for dinner. We're doing a lot of the 30-Minute Meals at the moment, so try to catch some of the programmes on C4 and hopefully something will excite you.
Q sethstarkaddersmummyreturns: My daughter would like to know if you teach your children to cook.
A Jamie: Yup. I drip-feed lessons to my kids, in disguise. It's not like a proper, formal lesson. I give them jobs in the kitchen - so I make one lay the table, one make a dressing, one pick herbs from the garden. They make salad dressing (jam jar dressing, they like to watch the olive and vinegar mix and drop down the sides) and they will eat salad - they like soft leave salads (not the peppery ones).
The only time I formally taught them, I gave my two eldest, Poppy and Daisy, a challenge that if they could learn every herb in the garden (I swore I wouldn't ever do this, but I did), it was 40 herbs, and get it right three times, I would buy them a microscooter. Thinking, of course, I would never have to. But they got it right in an hour! Then I thought 'that's too easy', so I made them do it by smell, blind-folded and they did that in 2 hours. Then I thought I was being mugged.
So I asked my gardener to test them again, when he showed up to work on Monday. It turned out he only knew 38 our of the 40, so Poppy and Daisy ended up with two microscooters. The possibilities of children and knowledge constantly surprise me, if they are incentivised in the right way. To be honest, I think Poppy is a better parent than I am, her attention to detail (at age seven) is outrageous!
Q Christmastrulyreigns: What meal immediately transports you back to childhood? It's my mum's fish pie for me!
A Jamie: My mum's fish pie used to make me very happy and nothing quite tastes like your mum's - weird that it's the same as you!
Q Muggglewump: Do you ever think that folk are put off when you and other chefs tell us to buy free range chicken, or buy tons of herbs for a dish, or only locally gown and such, when we all know you can afford it so it's no hardship to you? I try to cook well, but my budget is limited, so I mostly prioritise food being made from scratch. What's the right thing to do given the circumstances?
A Jamie: Definitely. Knowing what's going into the food you're feeding your family is so important - it sounds like you're doing a great job. On that money point – fair enough, higher welfare meat can be a bit more expensive, and if you're going to eat chicken four or five times a week, then it's going to get expensive.
But when we eat chicken less often, and spend just a little bit more on it when we do buy it, or give those delicious cheaper cuts of meat, like chicken thighs, a chance, then higher welfare meat suddenly becomes more accessible. As for locally grown veg, I would love it if everyone grew their own, and if you ask me, that's the most budget-friendly thing ever. But still, local farmers' markets definitely won't break the bank, and you'll often spend less buying your veg there then at the supermarket - and it will be better for you nutritionally because it won't have travelled for thousands of miles on a plane.
And lastly - on the herbs - I know I use a lot of them, but they are such a brilliant way of flavouring food without having to use loads of salt or other seasonings. Herb plants don't cost much at all, and if you bung a few of them in a window-box or flower bed, you'll save loads of cash in the long run and your food will taste better for it. Trust me, things like rosemary and thyme especially will grow like weeds!
Q TheSquodgit: How much importance do you place on eating organic produce?
A Jamie: The truth is that organic food is often wonderful - they don't use chemicals and a lot of the very strict requirements mean that organic food is more likely to be produced using old-fashioned farming methods. Saying that, it isn't necessarily a passport to better flavour, and if it's been hanging around the warehouse for days, then it's not a passport to better nutrition either. Fresh and local would be my preference. But I would suggest every Mumsnetter buys into organic milk and dairy. Dairy is generally in a mess and organic dairy farms are in real danger, so I wholeheartedly support organic farms.
To sum up, the chances of getting something tastier and more nutritious are probably higher in organic produce, but ultimately it's about not having chemicals in your diet and that's up to your
preference. I think buying locally is the real key.
Q TheDailyWail: Any top tips on how to make our weekly shop go further and cost less whilst still being delicious and healthy?
A Jamie: I could give a very long answer, but briefly - bulk cooking and freezing stuff? Buying cheaper cuts of meat like pork shoulder? Growing herbs? Making your own bread? Just a few ideas there.
Q brookeslay: What is your signature dish? The one you cook all the time, and never tire of?
A Jamie:I don't really have one signature dish any more. I've cooked too many things. Boring answer, I know. I suppose one of the things I come back to time and again would be a slow roast pork shoulder.
Q AnaEspanola: I'm always trying to be inventive in the kitchen and come up with new and wacky combinations that work. What's the most unusual recipe you've ever made?
A Jamie:I think when you're a cook you're trying so many things that usual and unusual become a blur. I don't actually like being too wacky, although when I've eaten Heston's food it's been amazing.
Q MmeBodyInTheBasement: Can you post the chicken nuggets recipe?
A Jamie: Slice a bit of chicken 1cm thick, add a bit of salt and pepper, dust in flour in sandwich bag (to save mess/washing up). Shake off the excess, then toss in a beaten egg. Again, shake off the excess, toss in breadcrumbs (ideally dried, which you should make with your leftovers by whizzing in food processor). Fry in olive oil in non-stick pan or put a little oil with breadcrumbs. You can bake them in oven. Definitely a great contender for weekly kids' meal (although not every day).
Q friendly: Do you think you could write a vegetarian cookbook for us, please?
A Jamie: I'm going to do a big veggie bible in the next year. I just had the thumbs-up to do it yesterday. Although every single one of my books has been 60% veggie, my vegetarian friends almost take it as form of veggie racism that I haven't done a veggie book so after ten years I've caved in.
Q Christmastrulyreigns: I feel the 5.30pm scheduling for airing your 30-Minute Meals show is slightly strange. What was the rationale behind that?
A Jamie:I requested it to be at that time specifically because I was interested about the type of people - usually mums and students - who are around at that time and everyone around me, including Channel 4, didn't want me to do it at the beginning, but I dug my heels in.
Although it's not normal to go from prime-time to daytime, for lots of reasons I think it's probably one of the best things I've done and the response is amazing. We've been getting so many viewers at 5.30pm, and I want the time to be useful rather than glamorous. The crowd at 5.30pm are far more interesting because I think they watch and they're active - and I've seen that on Twitter.
Q Bunbaker: I love the 30-Minute Meals programme. One of the recipes is speedy "roast" beef, which you use fillet steak for, but as that is beyond my pocket what cut would you suggest for a speedy "roast" beef?
A Jamie: Sadly, that is the only cut for a speedy roast beef, which is why I apologetically wrote that this is the only way - but that's only for 30-Minute Meals, and if you have a bit longer, the good news is you can use something like piece of brisket, which costs next to nothing in a tray seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary. It takes 45 seconds to put it in the oven, then just leave it while you go to work for 8 hours. You'll come back to even better cut of meat than fillet steak, in every way. And I still class this as fast food.
30-Minute Meals required me to deliver in 30 minutes, and fillet steak ticked the box. To a real cook there is no difference between the cheaper cuts of meat and real expensive types of meat - prime cuts can be cooked and eaten very quickly - cheaper cuts, sadly named second class cuts in the industry, need to go low and slow.
The simple fact is, if you have a knowledge of cooking, having a smaller budget or less cash to put food on table has always historically created the most interested meals and best recipes. Meanwhile, the 'noble' folks' cooking has always been boring and predictable - lobster, port and cream, fillet steak kind of stuff. If you've got less to spend use it to your advantage. The whole of cooking in last 1,000 years has shown tight budgets produce best food.
Q Nuttybear: Your book says you can make meals in 30 minutes, but does that include the washing up and cleaning?
A Jamie: On washing up I genuinely do try to multi-use pans and even serve stuff in the trays and pans I cook them in. Ultimately though, if you cook fresh there will be washing up. The best thing I can recommend even if you're on a budget is get a second-hand dishwasher. It sterilises everything and gets it out the way, and when I do 30-minute meals I work into the dishwasher, so genuinely I can have it semi-done in 30 mins, because I've packed away as I've worked.
But don't be misled into thinking 30-Minute Meals is a bunch of recipes. It's a whole new approach, and if you don't read the intro you won't achieve what it's out to achieve. And for me and all of my testing team, creating 30-Minute Meals and testing it has changed all of our lives, and we never thought it would. Just looking at how we run the kitchen, approach the kitchen and start and finish a meal.
And also it's the only book that I know of that if you're a good cook and you do what you're told it works and if you're a bad cook and do as you're told it works. But if you're a good cook and don't follow the rules I can't promise you anything. It's the Gina Ford of cooking.
Q TitsalinaBumSquash: I'm flabbergasted that people get right through to middle age without learning to cook at all and I totally don't get the whole 'I don't have time thing' so it's great that you have brought out 30-Minute Meals. Was your 'Pass it On' campaign as successful as you would have liked and if not why do you think that was?
A Jamie: 'Pass it On' did OK in Rotherham, but the thing I'm really proud of is the Ministry of Food movement. Three centres now, all really busy - Rotherham taught 6,500 people to cook last year. We've got a mobile ministry opening in the North East soon. We're launching in Australia this year. I agree with you that it's shocking how many people can't cook, but really, where can they learn? That's why I set up Ministry of Food centres - to give people somewhere where they could come in, feel welcome, and learn those essential skills. It's brilliant, these centres really do work. If you feel there should be a centre where you live, please lobby your council and MP.
Q Nickstermum: I have to say again, you were really inspirational on Jamie In America.
A Jamie: What inspired me was that I knew it would be the biggest challenge because it is the country with the biggest obesity problem. Have things changed? Well, I think slowly they are changing, but getting people to believe in what you're trying to achieve and get excited about it takes time. I've got a team of really good people working there right now to keep things ticking over, and we've got some great businesses helping us – the guys from Chipotle are donating around $1m this Halloween and I believe the government knows that it needs to do more. It'll be a slow burn, but well worth it in the long run.
Q Deliaskis: Your American Food Revolution is one of the few documentary-style programmes that has me both filling up with tears and cheering and clapping at the TV all in one evening. Any update on how the revolution is carrying on months later?
A Jamie: Here's a bunch of updates that we've done. In short, great things are happening. The town of Huntington on its own merit is keeping the kitchen alive, busy and funded. The big local church is doing fundraisers and cooking fresh food for the hundreds of people in their congregation. All the schools in the area have gone from junk to fresh.
My role was to bring the town together as a united front. It's early days, but it was about getting them to help themselves. And the good news is that I'm going to do a second season, which we're filming early next year, where we can get more in depth and inspire the public to have an opinion and demand more of their supermarkets, fast food retailers, and their governments in regards to school food.
Q pollyannasgladgame: How do you expect the spending cuts to impact on healthy eating in schools? I'm a teacher in a secondary school, where you can't buy a dessert on its own without a main course. But I'm wondering if the ethics will withstand the financial imperative?
A Jamie: I see where you're coming from, and there have been a lot of questions on school food. I don't know where to start it's such a big subject, but I'm due to see the Head of Education and Health in the next month, and I can give you an intelligent answer them.
My general worry from seven years ago, and for the future, is that we need someone credible to represent, head up, protect and inspire all the right changes within the government on school food as a key strategy to public health in this obesity epidemic. The School Food Trust - which was a quango anyway - has just been rolled up, so I have many question marks about the future of how a modern British secondary and primary should work.
The sad fact is that school meals can be sustainable, they can make money that can go back into the system or the school, but someone at some stage has to invest money to get the schools and the system of school food into the shape that will allow them to do that after 35 years of neglect and non-investment.
It's a big old subject, I'm completely with you and it still keeps me up at night for sure. It keeps me up because for 26,000 primary schools and 3,500 secondary schools and 5.5m kids going to school every day (of whom half have a hot school meal and half have packed lunch), for 190 days of the year, the government - along with families - are wholly responsible for at least half of every child's nutrition. Therefore they are wholly responsible for half of bad health in these dark times of the obesity epidemic.
Dinner ladies need to be loved and supported and given the tools to do their job efficiently - and paid properly. I can promise you because I know and have worked with hundreds of these ladies they will over deliver wholeheartedly. They are doing the best they can right now, but the system is like being back in the 1920s.
Q Aitch: I am currently discussing why on earth children in my daughter's school need to have a choice between plain, strawberry and chocolate milk with some annoying woman at the council. She tells me that it 'meets nutritional guidelines'. Are you happy with the current nutritional guidelines?
A Jamie: If you're in the UK then I'm annoyed because there shouldn't be any need for flavoured milk in school. Milk's milk isn't it? I've dealt with many councils over the years and some are brilliant but sometimes you just get someone who can't see common sense. Keep fighting.
Q sethstarkaddersmummyreturns: Could you do a TV programme or book for children, teaching them how to cook? We think it would be fab.
A Jamie: I've been working on a bunch of stuff for a few years now and I really want to do something for kids and hopefully in the next couple of years we'll do something really lovely and spectacular and empowering so kids can roll up their sleeves and get involved.
I feel I can do it - I started cooking a lot when I was about eight, using knives and opening oven doors and all that. I think it's all about getting the balance between good parenting but letting them really have a go at the same time and allowing them to make decisions every week about what they eat, decisions between a good choice and a good choice, not a good choice and a bad choice.
Q NigellaPleaseComeDineWithMe: Can anyone have too many cook books? My wife thinks I have, but I think we can squeeze a few more in.
A Jamie: Not if you cook, but yes if you don't cook. I don't have a go-to cook book, partly because I'm dyslexic (which is ironic as I've written 14 books). In short, all the inspirational writers in my life have been women. And although women don't think they have the advantage, they do, because all their instincts are maternal and about nourishing their family - as opposed to blokes who try and control nature, shape it, mould it and use it as a weapon to look better and I genuinely mean that.
So my inspiration to name a few are Stephanie Alexander from Australia, Marcello Hussan, Patricia Wells, Elizabeth David, Rose Gray, Ruth Rogers, Alice Waters - all of these women are great, great cooks with a sensibility that is bang on and any of their books are great.
On the blokes thing - I know I'm a bloke - but for blokes to be good is simple but I think they have to think like a woman to really get it right (and I'm not just saying that because I'm on Mumsnet.) I firmly believe that as chefs, women have confidence problems, and sadly every year I lose lots of young women chefs and students from Fifteen, not because they can't do it, but because they think can't handle the level of stress in a commercial kitchen, which sadly is just not true.
Q thereistheball: How do you balance your interests in the books you write with the TV programmes you present and appear on, plus your two restaurant chains, the cookware you design, the magazine you publish, and so on? Running any of these is a full-time job. How closely can you be involved with any one project?
A Jamie: I have a great team of people who all believe in what we're trying to do but I always make sure there's enough time in the diary to take care of the things that need my input. The books, for example, take a lot of my time because I choose all the importatnt stuff like the type of paper as well as writing all the recipes which we then test at least three times. A lot of love and sweat goes into everything from the magazine right down to the pasta sauces.
Q 30andMerkin: Do you ever worry you're spreading yourself too thin? You're great at getting people into cooking but I'm not sure what endorsed homewares have to do with that!
A Jamie: I can assure you that I have quality control. The thing with the homewares is that they're all great quality and value and if I don't like something, I won't do it. Yes, I'm encouraging people to cook, but I also love making food look great and making food easier to prepare so I'm happy to work with Tefal and all the other partners to put great products out there.
Q Loujalou: Not sure if this has been asked but where do you get the inspiration for your recipes - do you have a team that help you or do you sit there and figure them all out.
A Jamie: Inspiration comes from loads of places - thin air, a dream, reading something in a book or a magazine, a conversation, talking or seeing produce or a farmer, a mistake, luck. I have a fantastically talented team of people who test all the recipes to be sure they can work for anyone, and also help do research for TV.
I've got a great team, but they are ultimately driven by me and they are my recipes. Every recipe I write is tested five times. It's really important to me that my food is accessible to everyone.
Q jollydiane: Could we have a chapter or two that gives you a weekly planner so you know what to buy and can plan so there are no leftovers? I get annoyed with myself for forgetting ingredients or have leftovers ingredients that I don't know what to do with!
A Jamie: It's funny you should mention leftovers because they might well make an appearance in one of my books at some point so watch this space. But a good general get-out-of-trouble suggestion would be to go to the recipe section on my website and type in the ingredient you've got left over. You should get plenty of ideas for using it up. Good luck.
Q kveta: My friend saw you in our local Sainsbury's a couple of Christmasses ago and still wonders if you get an employee discount - do you?
A Jamie: I don't get an employee discount! I have mentioned it a few times, but everyone just looks at me and says 'you're paid enough'. But it's not about the money - it's about being part of the family, isn't it? So you're actually picking up on a very sensitive emotional aspect of a ten-year relationship!
Jamie: Thanks all, have to go now but I've really enjoyed it and will be back. Big love, Jamie.
Last updated: 5 months ago